This kind of performance was one thing in the Premier League, outgunned by the technically superior and expensively-assembled sides.
It is quite another to suffer it against a Middlesbrough side with plenty of problems themselves.
Sunderland's mounting injury list took a predictable toll here and the Black Cats quite simply did not have either the physicality or creativity to hurt their opponents.
By necessity there were players playing through injury and out of position, but the lack of quality in the final third was still alarming.
Chris Coleman was brave to take this job and this performance underlined how much he needs help. Will Ellis Short provide it? The apathy on Wearside suggests all know the likely answer.
It began with a decent spell of possession for Sunderland, and indeed they had plenty of those in the first half, but Middlesbrough were rarely troubled.
The Black Cats had most of the ball with little penetration, the difference in attacking quality quickly becoming obvious.
Just nine minutes into the game, Adama Traore came out of a challenge with Ethan Robson carrying the ball, surging past four Black Cats players. His pass beyond the defence was sublime and with Jason Steele flying off his line, Rudy Gestede could convert with an easy first-time finish.
From there the hosts took control, occasionally frustrating Tony Pulis as they moved the ball around with little tempo. Still, they had a number of efforts as the half progressed. Martin Braithwaite twice fired wide from distance while Stewart Downing also flashed a long-range effort wide.
Sunderland had few openings, Bryan Oviedo seeing his cut-back from the byline blocked at the last moment and Ethan Robson drifting a free-kick wide of the far post.
The second typified the contest, Sunderland a soft touch as they conceded from a corner. Steele claimed Downing's ball into the box but dropped it on his fall, the ball bouncing around before Braithwaite hammered home.
Steele had been given the start after impressing Chris Coleman over a period of weeks on the training ground.
Coleman, like Simon Grayson before him, does not see a great deal of difference in quality between his goalkeepers but Steele struggled again as Robbin Ruiter grows in composure.
Steele did at least start the second half well, turning a deflected Traore effort wide of the posts. Moments before, Josh Maja had struck the bar with a near-post header from George Honeyman's corner.
The Black Cats were getting more bodies forward and showing more intent, the early introduction of Joel Asoro helping that cause. But the lack of quality in the final third remained glaring, even Bryan Oviedo, one of the better performers this season, blazing a raft of crosses from promising positions into touch.
Sunderland did go close when Oviedo's corner was headed towards goal by Tyias Browning, palmed superbly onto the bar by Darren Randolph.
From there Middlesbrough began to break regularly and with threat, Adam Clayton and Traore going close from distance.
The travelling support, remarkably patient given the team's toils, ended with defiant chants of 'things can only get better' and 'don't worry about a thing'.
The pervading fear is that before then, they could get worse still.
A raft of loans is likely to arrive and Sunderland's manager is doing his best to remain upbeat. The long-term effect of Ellis Short's dwindling interest will leave him hamstrung if something does not change in the next three weeks.